“Winter is for red wine and black beer.”– Tom Landry. Alright, Tom Landry probably didn’t say this, however it is undisputed that he was the greatest NFL coach of all time. Therefore, I think it’s fair to assume he knews this maxim.
Like me, do you crave the warm blanket of alcohol to ease you into the Winter weekend, yet fear the inevitable shame of seeing the half-finished twelve pack of Miller Light the next morning? Fear no more, friends. I have not one, but two solutions for you. Tonight, I’m drinking dark beer– stouts and a porters, specifically. The first is from Wisconsin’s Tyranena brewery— the Doubly Down and Even Dirtier Chocolate Double Stout. The second is the Cocoa Porter from Tommyknocker brewery in Ft. Collins, CO. Sampling these two beers will allow you to re-characterizing “drinking” into “expanding your bibulatory, and cultural horizons.” –Tom Landry.
Here’s a little background masquerading as “cultural horizon” expansion. Stouts and porters were first brewed in England in the early 18th century. They’re made from roasted malts or barley, which give the beer its distinctive dark color and strong flavor. In general, there’s little distinction between stouts and porters, though traditionally a stout was a stronger version of a porter. Today, the classification is left to individual breweries. They vary in strength from around 4.5% to around 10% ABV.
A few of the more common sub-categories:
“Irish stouts” (think Guinness) tend to have a “toasty” or slight coffee flavor. This is where I started, and though I still enjoy Guinness, I find it lacks the punch of many other porters and stouts from various craft breweries.
“Imperial stouts”, also known as “Russian imperials” are quite potent. They were originally brewed in the 18th century in London for export to the court of Catherine II of Russia. Traditionally, this style has a higher alcohol content (9% ABV is common) necessary to prevent freezing in transport across the Baltic.
“Milk stouts” (or cream stouts) contain lactose sugar from milk. This adds sweetness and a silky mouthfeel. I enjoy these, though the added sugar can give these beers a cloying quality unless properly balanced.
“Oatmeal stouts” contain…oats, of course. That’s not to say that they have any oat-y flavor. Rather, the texture is the big difference here. The smoothness of oatmeal stouts comes from the high content of proteins, lipids, and gums imparted by the use of oats. These increase the viscosity and body adding to the sense of silkiness.
“Chocolate stout” is a name sometimes given to those brews with a noticeable dark chocolate flavor through the use of darker, more aromatic malt that has been roasted until it takes on a chocolate color. Frequently, as in the case of our two beers here, these are also brewed with a small amount of actual chocolate.
“Coffee stouts” use dark roasted malts that lend a bitter coffee flavor. Some brewers emphasize this flavor by adding ground coffee. The ABV of these coffee-flavored stouts will vary from under 4% to over 8%. Most are dry and bitter, though if you’re a coffee fan, excellent beers.
Note that these subcategories are often combined. A stellar example is Founders’ Chocolate Oatmeal Coffee Breakfast Stout. If you can find it, you’re obligated to try it.
Now to the beer. The Tyranena Chocolate Double Stout (similar to an Imperial stout) pours like raw crude oil. It’s beautiful. This beer is part of Tyranena’s Brewers Gone Wild series, wherein they set out to see just how extreme a beer they can produce. This one is aged in oak barrels, adding vanilla notes to its complex, intense flavor, as well a smoothness to its texture. The addition of chocolate nibs adds a strong dark-chocolate structure that underlies everything. In combination, these two characteristics balance against the high alcohol content, making this one of the best double stouts I’ve ever had. A word of caution though, as this monster clicks in (I’m guessing) at around 10% ABV, which means you probably shouldn’t reach for that third bottle if you intend to make sound decisions for the rest of the night. I rate this impressive beer at a 9.5/10.
The Cocoa Porter is a different beer entirely. Rather than use chocolate nibs, the brewers at Tommyknocker have added cocoa powder. The flavor closely resembles a lighter, creamy chocolate milk, rather than brooding dark chocolate. The addition of honey provides a hint of sweetness that emphasizes the smooth flavor transition of this beer. In contrast to the Tyranena, this one is not aged in oak barrels and the alcohol content is more modestly set at around 5% ABV. Both of these factors contribute to a lighter, less-silky mouthfeel that resembles a normal beer in terms of texture. Crude oil, this is not. In any case, the final product is unique, light, and pleasantly sweet– like candy. I’ve used it on several occassions to lure my friend, Ryan Andersen, over for “just one beer.” I rate it at 8/10.
Pick one or both of these fine beers up, if you get the chance. It’ll make Tom Landry proud. Enjoy the weekend.